David Willems, global business development director at UMS SKELDAR, discusses the opportunities for unmanned aerial vehicles to become the go-to technologies to deal with crisis situations from humanitarian relief to piracy at sea.

The dynamic UAV market covers a spectrum of applications in the defence, commercial and homeland security sectors, and according to industry researchers, is forecast to be worth $28.27 billion by 2022.

The security and surveillance role of UAVs has become the latest tool deployed against the murky world of organised criminal activity, where smart smugglers have overcome a range of strategies deployed by concerned governments and agencies including the use of ground-based radar systems.

The enemy evolves

With those involved in illegal activities now resorting to sophisticated means, from illegal boarding of merchant ships to transporting contraband, the role of agencies in detection and prevention is more challenging than ever before.

These ‘next-generation criminals’ have developed their own methods to identify and thwart or avoid any detection during the commission of their illegal activities. They have been successfully able to transport their goods in bulk while entirely evading the vision of radar systems, remaining invisible to those trying to capture them.

The problem here lies within catching out determined individuals or gangs on land or sea using grounded technologies. Most people involved in such activities are well aware of the patch or region within which they operate, so further advanced capabilities are required for the authorities to stay one step ahead. That brings in the use of aerial surveillance and specifically UAVs. Here, the SKELDAR V-200 was successfully trialled by the Spanish Navy in an antipiracy operation across the Indian Ocean, as well as within the antipiracy mission ATALANTA (EU NAVFOR) off the coast of Somalia.

"The first three months of 2016 visibly demonstrated the dynamic nature of maritime crime and how effective action to combat it can turn the tide in favour of the good guys," said Ian Millen, chief operating officer, Dryad Maritime.

"There are some welcome causes for optimism in certain regions, notably the Indian Ocean where Somali piracy remains broadly contained, and in South-East Asia where we have seen a remarkable turnaround in a little over six months to deliver our lowest first-quarter figures in a decade.

"In other areas, such as the Gulf of Guinea, the picture is a less positive one, with kidnap of crew for ransom rampant off the Niger Delta."

Remote possibilities

Remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) – to more aptly describe the bundle of services such as aircraft, ground stations and payload accessories – are some of the most tactical, accurate and covert technologies when it comes to surveillance.
Where rotary unmanned helicopters are able to hover in the air for hours undetected, they can search targeted personnel and devices in real time.

For long perimeter and coverage of vast areas, such as the Pacific, such operations can be handled by seaborne VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft or ground-based fixed-wing UAVs. Operated by ground control stations (GCS), they can be easily assembled and operated by direct commands, providing live crucial data.

A number of manufacturers offer versions; however, UMS SKELDAR is unique as Europe’s only provider of fixed-wing and rotary platforms with various payload capabilities.